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Trails: Barlow Road

Barlow Road Sign Beginning Barlow Pass Mount Hood Oregon Trail RunPhoto by Chris Murphy

A perfect run for a sunny, fall day in the mountains, the Barlow Road offers a unique experience by combining our favorite athletic activity with a generous dose of Oregon history.

Carved out of the forest south of Mt. Hood by Sam Barlow in the 1840s, the Barlow Road was traveled by thousands of Oregon Trail emigrants who sought to bypass dangerous Columbia River rapids downstream of The Dalles. The road has changed little since, retaining a rugged feel for much of its 31-mile length.

On U.S. Forest Service maps it’s known as FS 3530. Our recommended starting point is just past the junction of U.S. 26 and OR 35, at Barlow Pass (about 1.5 hours east of Portland). Turn right (south) off Hwy. 35 and proceed a short distance to a large parking area. Near the highway, on the east side of the parking lot, find a large wooden sign marking the beginning of the Barlow Road (the Pacific Crest Trail crosses near here also).

The rough doubletrack road descends steeply from here for about a mile, then continues to descend more gradually as it winds through thick, old-growth forest. You’ll pass numerous campgrounds along the way (some of them historic sites), which should spawn a few ideas about future car camping/running adventures.

The road flattens as it nears the White River, and the bridge over the river at 10 miles makes a nice turnaround. But be prepared for the return trip. It’s uphill all the way back, and that mile you flew down at the start will be a stiff challenge at the finish.

Do an Internet search of the Barlow Road before your trip to learn more of the history of this remarkable thoroughfare. As you run, you’ll almost be able to hear the creaking wagons and bellowing oxen as they travel over multiple days the same distance you can cover in a couple of hours.

-Phil Orlowski